Devon - Summer Ends With A Bang!

This summer has been an amazing few months full of travel, photos, camping and adventures. After an exhausting adventure in the highlands of Scotland last month I was looking forward to a week in a warm comfortable flat, with a bed, a great view decent meals and a shower! My parents were on holiday in the harbour town of Brixham, in Devon, and offered me a free bed as a chance for me to tick off another location on my list of places to shoot.

I didn't plan on going out with my camera the night I arrived, but after a little persuasion I joined my mum and dad on their evening walk down to the harbour. It was only a 10 minute walk from the flat to the start of the breakwater and by that point the sunset was in full swing and I had to rush to get set up. It always feels good to get a decent start so early on in a trip.

The following day I was ready and rearing for a day exploring Dartmoor and finding all the locations I had spent the previous weeks researching. The first thing that struck me about Dartmoor was how vast it was. It took me the whole day to find just a couple of the locations I had researched.

That night on our evening walk I decided to stay nearer the harbour. It turns out that was a good call! The sun disappears quite early on in the evening behind the steep, crowded slopes surrounding the harbour which made it seem to me that the sunset is over in a flash! I was able to capture just a few photos before the colour in the clouds vanished.

Once the sun had set I stayed behind with my dad to wait for the lights of the town to bring the place to life. For the next hour or so I hung around the harbour as my camera made its long exposures. I was able to make the best of the “blue hour” that comes at twilight.

The next days forecast for Dartmoor was still poor. I decided that my best bet would be to stay in Brixham for the sunrise. I was quietly relieved that I didn’t face a really early start.

At the breakwater I kept an eye on the horizon, looking for the sun. Some light cloud picked out some lovely colour and I was able to capture this set of photos looking out to sea. These images really capture the peacefulness of the morning.

As the morning went on and the sun grew closer to the horizon, I turned my attention towards the marina. The stillness of the water made some great reflections of the boats and the clouds. The colour in the sky was certainly getting stronger every minute, but I love the subtlety and muted tones in this shot.

When the sun was up, I started to make my way home but I couldn’t just walk past this shot of the town. I felt really pleased to have had a positive start to the day and felt good about going out later to find more locations on Dartmoor. Little did I know that soon, everything was about to go horribly wrong.

When I set off in the car later that morning I didn’t even make it onto the moor before disaster stuck. I’m not sure what exactly I hit, maybe a rock or a piece of stray farm equipment on the road, but all of a sudden I heard a loud “pop” and felt my car start to wobble. After several hours of waiting with the police for a recovery van, one badly dented alloy and a ruined tyre, I was finally on my way again. Long story short, I had lost a full day of exploring Dartmoor.

Feeling pretty deflated and frankly fed up, I collapsed at home at the end of the day with no intention of going out for yet another sunset of the same harbour I’d been at every day since I arrived. That said… with a bit more persuasion I found myself out with my dad, above the harbour waiting for the sunset. And once again, it turned out to be worthwhile. I had to remind myself that it’s when things go wrong that you need to dig deep and make the most of every opportunity, otherwise you'll regret it.

Even though I still felt pretty unenthused about going out with my camera, I dragged myself out of bed the next day and along the coast to Paignton for a sunrise shot of the pier. The sunrise turned out well with some nice golden light, along with the bonus of a kayaker and swimmer in the sea to add some interest to my photos. But more importantly it helped me feel revitalised about my photography. I spent the remainder of the day at Paignton zoo with my parents.

It was frustrating that it had taken so long to find the shots I was looking for. But the following day, with a bit more enthusiasm, I was able to really sink my teeth into Dartmoor and was able to find the remaining locations on my list. I had been looking for a village surrounded by fields with a church steeple rising above, and that was exactly what I found at Moretonhampstead. It had been bright and clear all day but the evening turned out extremely hazy. I chose to leave early for some well needed dinner and try some shots in the morning.

I knew that the shot I wanted required the sun to be up and shining on the village so I decided not to get there long before the sunrise as I normally would, and gave myself some extra time in bed. I got my hopes up on the drive out when I passed through several stretches of lovely morning mist. Unfortunately, when I got up the hill overlooking the village there wasn’t enough mist to create the sort of effect I was hoping for. After a while the sun began to peek over the hill behind me and I was able to capture the pictures I’d been after all week!

By this point it was apparent that I wouldn’t have time to shoot all of the locations I had planned to, but I was happy with the places I had left to try. So that afternoon I went along the road at my dad’s recommendation to Goodrington. The beach at Goodrington is lined with some quintessentially picturesque beach huts and also one very unique feature - a steam train!

The last day of my trip was a bit of a washout but I wanted to make the most of the last sunset before I went home. I had to decide between the two Tors that I had scouted earlier in the week. I made the decision to go up Cox Tor and photograph the array of wind swept Hawthorn trees that are strewn across the hillside. Traffic had really held me up and I had to rush to get into position. The cloud blocked out most of the sunlight for the duration of the evening but I was able to make some dark and moody images of the battered trees. It wasn’t the grand finale to the week that I’d perhaps hoped for but I’m actually quite pleased with the final results.

Whenever I go away on a trip like this I always try to find a few locations that would work well in poor weather conditions. These are normally woodland areas under a lot of cover or waterfalls. For this trip, that shot was Hisley Bridge – a small stone bridge over a river in a nice wooded area. Perfect.

This summer has been an incredible adventure. I feel privileged to have been able to spend the past few months travelling to some of the most beautiful parts of the country. I’ve had an exhausting and extremely trying time, but it’s overwhelmingly rewarding. What’s more is I’m feeling even more enthusiastic about my photography than ever.

I can’t wait for autumn to arrive!

Into the Wild, Ardnamurchan

I’ve been longing for a trip back up the west coast of Scotland for a while now. So when the opportunity arose to get away for a few nights camping, it was too good to resist! My girlfriend and I set off on the very familiar A82; bound for the west coast.

Ardnamurchan is a wild and beautiful peninsula in Lochaber with remote and mainly untouched beaches. It’s a long and arduous drive along 40 miles of single track road to enjoy such tranquillity, but once you’re there you are sure to be rewarded.

As this was a spur of the moment trip I knew of only two shots I wanted to try and capture. The first of which was the view over Sanna Bay with it’s stunning white beaches and tropical blue waters reaching out to the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg and Muck.

I have to admit; the 160 miles and 6 hours it took us to get there had really taken it out of me. Lugging all the camping stuff along the beach, only to fail to get the barbecue lit didn’t help. But what really tipped me over the edge was that after all that, tired, hungry and sweaty; I made the mad dash up the hill to the spot I had found when we first arrived only to miss the sunset by about 30 seconds.

Needless to say, it was a low moment for me. Especially as I’ve always tried to work with the belief that preparation prevents poor performance. I sat there, moping, in the knowledge that the forecast had told me that night was to be my best chance to get a decent picture of the beach. I trudged back down the hill towards the beach, feeling sorry for myself, to find my girlfriend had managed to get the campfire going. I thought back to one of the lessons from my last BLOG and did my best to clear my mind and appreciate the moment and idyllic setting.

At 5 o’clock the next morning I woke up grateful for the calm - and for the most part - dry night in the tent. I planned to poke my head out of the tent to inspect the sky and assess whether or not it was worth dragging myself out of bed and back to the spot above Sanna; but the moment I opened my eyes I could see a glow through the window of the tent beginning to appear on the horizon. I instantly got dressed, gathered my things and headed out - I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. 

Above the bay I huddled into my jacket to stay warm and try to defend myself from the midges. I was contemplating the pros and cons of the wind picking up and keeping the midges at bay. Still haunted by my failings the night before, I was engrossed in my map, trying to identify all the places I could see; wondering if that really could be Knoydart in the distance.

Marching circles around my tripod, I felt like a sentry watching over the bay. It was a faint shaft of light over Rum that sprung me into action. It was only then that I noticed all midges on my lens!

The outline of Muck was picked out against the silhouette of Rum as light creeped its way towards me. Behind me, the village of Portuairk fast began to glow, coming to life in the light of day. I started to get excited as light reached the tips of the dunes on the beach. Beautiful fluffy clouds were being blown in from the sea. I knew that I was watching the beginning of something special. 

The light never quite found its way onto the beach, but as the colour faded and the sun was lost behind some clouds, I was able to saunter back down the hill, happy in the knowledge that I had been able to capture something ten times more special than I had missed the night before. 

Happily, as I knew the other shot I wanted to get was just a mile or so along the coast, we were able to spend all morning, and part of the afternoon, lazing around on the beach, enjoying the sun, the view, the colour of the sea, and yet, despite only being connected to the mainland by a windy single track road, we didn’t actually feel like we were in one of the most remote parts of the country.

The lighthouse at Ardnamurchan marks the most westerly point of the British Isles mainland. We spent the latter part of the afternoon exploring the lighthouse and befriending the resident goats. But once it was time to set up for the sunset, I found a spot on a group of rocks down by the water level, with waves swirling around to fill in the foreground to complete my picture. 

It was a beautiful afternoon; it was warm, the sky was blue, barely a cloud above me - sounds perfect. But I was already worried that it would end up being a flat colourless evening, lacking any drama or interest. I knew I was going to be in for a long wait – two and a half hour’s to be exact. I passed the time doing what I normally do when I’m waiting with my camera. I got my map out to try and identify the island I was staring at off the west coast. (It was coll)

I had a horrible feeling that the sun might disappear into the haze hanging over the horizon – the same thing that caught me out on the first night. Fortunately I could see that the cloud was breaking up so I decided to persevere in the hope that I might get a few colourful rays of sun right at the last minute.

When the sun sank into the hazy murk to the west I decided I had exhausted all the possibilities at my current position. The problem was that I was still shooting into the sun. None of the colour that I could see was being caught by my camera. The rocks in my foreground were a deep black, and from my angle I was unable to see the light catching the lighthouse.

I packed up my gear and set off further round the bay. It was hard going. The coast was made up completely of huge jaggy boulders. It took a long time to find the sort of composition I was looking for – an angle looking back towards the mainland to enable me to catch the colour of the sunset. By the time I found the shot I was looking for, I had to rush to get set up so as not to miss another sunset!

Just as I took my first exposure the sun reached a gap in the cloud. Light hit the rocks in my foreground and there was colour in the sky. I was able to take only half a dozen pictures before the sun completely disappeared.

After navigating the treacherous coastline of boulders and bogs back to the car, I arrived in a disgusting sweaty mess. It was definitely time to go back to the tent and go to sleep.

I was pleased with each of the pictures I’d taken so far, but I have no idea when I’ll next be able to go all the way to Ardnamurchan again. So on the last morning of our trip I went back to Sanna.

The cloud cover was heavier than the day before, but nevertheless I went up the hill and began the wait for the sunrise. The clouds were covering Rum and Eigg in the distance, but I was rewarded for my early morning efforts with some spectacular colour in the sky.

After a short snooze when I returned to the tent we got up and began packing away the tent. Thankfully we were able to pack everything into the car before the rain started. And when the rain started it was torrential. The whole of the journey home it poured. There’s at least something satisfying about ending a trip in the rain instead of leaving just when things are improving.